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Win for rights of unmarried couples

The Supreme Court decision on rights of unmarried couples could pave way for more legal protection.

Denise Brewster, from Northern Ireland, was refused payments from her former partner’s pension when he died. They were together for 10 years and became engaged on Christmas Eve of 2009. But, he died unexpectedly on Boxing Day morning.

On Wednesday 8th February 2017, she won her battle to extend benefits to unmarried couples.

Samantha Lee, Head of Family Law at Swain & Co Solicitors, says, “This Supreme Court decision signals a huge extension of the rights of unmarried couples.”

Samantha explains, “There is a common misconception of ‘Common Law Spouses’, where you get legal protection when you have lived with your partner for a long time. This is simply incorrect – there is very little legal protection for unmarried couples living together when they separate or a partner dies”

Denise’s partner worked for Translink for 15 years and paid into Northern Ireland’s local government pension scheme. It required that members nominated cohabiting partners to benefit in the event of their death. The nomination had not been made for Denise Brewster, so the scheme refused to pay out to her.

It was argued that the need for a nomination form was disproportionate and discriminatory.

The five justices reached a unanimous judgment that the nomination form should be removed from the pension scheme and the refusal to pay Brewster was unlawful.

In light of the ruling, Graeme Fraser a spokesperson for Resolution on cohabitation says, “As the fastest growing family type in the UK, it’s crucial that these 3.3m cohabiting couples, alongside any children they may have, are provided considerably greater legal protection. Otherwise, as things stand, they are left vulnerable on the death of their partner or on relationship breakdown – hopefully today’s verdict paves way for this change.”

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